London's burning bright - but the world doesn't know

21st November 2014 at 00:00
Academic urges the UK capital to shout louder about its success

London's school system is not receiving the global attention and recognition it deserves, according to a leading international education researcher.

The likes of Singapore, Shanghai and Finland have the attention of politicians and policymakers from around the world. But Karen Edge, of the University of London's Institute of Education (IoE), said that London's achievements were not being properly shared.

"It is less about a city selling itself and saying: `This is amazing'," Dr Edge said, "and more about providing evidence of the influence London-based innovations are having. They are really interesting and are, in many cases, making a difference to the kids that are going to school in London."

In his foreword to the London Annual Education Report, published today, mayor Boris Johnson writes that the capital is now leading the UK at every stage of education.

But the document also warns of challenges ahead, including a persistent achievement gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and a "phenomenal" growth in pupil numbers, with primary rolls expected to rise by 94,000 between 2013 and 2022.

Dr Edge argued that the sheer size of the city might, counter-intuitively, be one reason why its schools received less international recognition than those in other cities. "I think sometimes because London is so big and because so many academics and practitioners are doing such different kinds of research, the evidence that we have about what is influencing London's success isn't being shared and celebrated," she said.

A former consultant at the World Bank, the Canadian academic is now in the middle of a major comparative research project looking at school leaders in three "global cities" - London, New York and Toronto. Her findings have convinced her that the British capital is not sufficiently recognised worldwide.

"The cities I work in face issues of poverty, of overcrowding, of income inequality, of diversity of language and of religious belief and cultural background," Dr Edge said. "I feel sometimes that London isn't recognised for its educational innovation on those fronts."

She added: "When a city hits it big on the academic and global educational scene.usually it is because there has been a certain amount of research done and evidence gathered.

"Chicago had a heyday with school councils and New York had a heyday with districts and then with small schools. Toronto is nested in Ontario, which is one of the top-performing English-speaking jurisdictions in the world according to Pisa [the Programme for International Student Assessment].

"People who do research in those cities are out talking about those cities and the things that make those cities great."

Dr Edge believes that events such as the Mayor's Education Conference, which takes place today, and the London Festival of Education in February - jointly organised by TES and the IoE - will help.

A hot topic at both events will be the ongoing debate about the trigger for London's educational success. Some experts attribute it to policy changes. But a University of Bristol study published earlier this month concludes that London schools have better GCSE results than the rest of England because they have a higher proportion of ethnic minority pupils. IoE director Chris Husbands argued this week that it was a bit of both and that "the London effect did not just happen without hard work".

Munira Mirza, London's deputy mayor for education and culture, said: "Young Londoners are achieving some of the best results in the UK, which is in large part down to school leadership and the dedication and hard work of excellent teachers across the capital."

She added: "We see ourselves as competing with the success to be found in other high-performing countries around the world. It is likely that if the rest of the country performed as well as London educationally, the national Pisa ranking for maths and English would rise from a current position of 27th to around 17th."

Dr Edge is convinced that there is plenty worth sharing. "There are innovations in the structure of schools and how schools are funded," she said. "There are more freedoms in terms of how leaders are trained and hired. There is a new curriculum.I think London, at the moment, is one of the most interesting educational cities around."

TES and IoE celebrate a city's pride

The improvement in London's schools is indisputable: between 2003 and 2011 the capital moved from being the lowest-performing of England's nine regions at GCSE to the best.

Now TES and the University of London's Institute of Education are to host the 2015 London Festival of Education to explore the reasons behind the capital's success. Is it down to immigration, Teach First, the London Challenge, economic success or the boom in academies? What can other regions learn? Can this success be replicated? All these questions - and more - will be discussed on 28 February.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that London's state-school pupils score some eight GCSE grades higher than those in the rest of the country, relative to their results at age 11.

And London is not only a powerhouse for school-level education. More than 40 higher education institutions lie within the M25 and another dozen UK universities are establishing satellite campuses in the city.

Speakers at the festival will include Munira Mirza, deputy mayor for education and culture; Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary; Sam Freedman, director of research at Teach First; Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation; and Pasi Sahlberg, a leading expert on school reform.

The festival will also explore a range of other issues affecting teachers as they strive to improve their schools.

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